The Manifestations of Whiteness

Summer Robinson, Agnes Scott College

She debated turning around. Upon her arrival, the excitement she possessed for the past few months all of sudden disappeared. She didn’t understand any of it. It wasn’t exactly what Simone expected. The crazy thing is-she did her research. She read about Brazil and she watched City of Gods. Plus, she learned about various African influences embedded in Brazilian culture, so what she saw shocked her.

Simone was beginning her senior year in college and she had yet to study abroad; in fact she had never traveled abroad. She knew that she didn’t want to graduate without having left the country to, “immerse in another culture”, she told her advisor. Originally, Simone wanted to go to a country in Africa. She’s always wanted to go to Africa, but for whatever reason the only university her school partnered with was the University of Johannesburg, and she did not want to go there.The last thing Simone wanted to see when she finally got to Africa was white people, let alone white people in positions of power. So, unfortunately traveling to Africa through her college wasn’t an option.

The next best location her school offered was in Brazil. She recently developed an interest in Pan-Africanism and how black identities are represented and valued in different parts of the world. So the idea of going to Brazil excited Simone.

Here it was, August 9, 2017. Simone, with her dark brown skin and long black box braids, got off the plane exuding confidence and enthusiasm. Confident, because she was sure that she, simply being a black young woman, would be welcomed with open arms. Enthusiastic, because for once in her life, she was entering a space that was predominantly black. A space where it would be easier for her to be unapologetic in embracing and expressing aspects of her identity.

The area of Brazil she was to stay in was a community of mostly Afro-Brazilians. She knew a little bit about the oppressions and violence Afro-Brazilians faced, but she figured it couldn’t be much different from the violence and systems of oppression black people in America deal with daily. Little did she know.

Simone spent the next few weeks being forced to question the value of her identity. She wasn’t prepared for the amount of white advertisements she saw everywhere, or for the lack of lotion that didn’t have bleaching cream in it. She wasn’t prepared for hearing rude remarks about her dark skin from people who looked just like her, same skin complexion and everything. Simone found herself reflecting on the various looming effects of colonialism in Brazil. It frustrated her to see and learn how whiteness and imperialism embedded itself in Brazil’s rich culture. Simone was embarrassed that she was so naïve and ignorant before her arrival, assuming that the suppression of blackness wasn’t a global thing.

You see, Simone represents the best and the worst of us. Many people don’t always fetishize a place because it’s foreign, but we have this privileged belief that because it’s foreign, and not our homes, “it’s not all bad”, or “it’s not as bad as this or that place”. But systems of oppression and institutionalized bigotry are real and rear their determined heads in various structures all around the world. Simone is finally waking up.